170. atavistic

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whiskeySo apparently two of the Phelps granddaughters, Megan and Grace, have left the Westboro clan. They even issued a public statement expressing regret for their actions as members of the family and the church. And everyone seems to be really excited and happy about that, ready to welcome these women with open arms into polite society.

And while I’m certainly glad that they’re out of that awful place and that there are two less Phelps in that clan to cause harm, I’m not entirely pleased with the reactions to this story.

Before I delve into my own feelings on this, here’s the statement they released:

We know that we’ve done and said things that hurt people. Inflicting pain on others wasn’t the goal, but it was one of the outcomes. We wish it weren’t so, and regret that hurt.

We know that we dearly love our family. They now consider us betrayers, and we are cut off from their lives, but we know they are well-intentioned. We will never not love them.

We know that we can’t undo our whole lives. We can’t even say we’d want to if we could; we are who we are because of all the experiences that brought us to this point. What we can do is try to find a better way to live from here on. That’s our focus.

Up until now, our names have been synonymous with “God Hates Fags.” Any twelve-year-old with a cell phone could find out what we did. We hope Ms. Kyle was right about the other part, too, though – that everything sticks – and that the changes we make in our lives will speak for themselves.

Okay, basic rules of public apology-making, as summarized on Billosophy:

  1. Ask For Forgiveness
  2. Admit What You Did
  3. Do Not Excuse
  4. Do Not Place Blame
  5. Do Not Justify Why
  6. Acknowledge The Consequences

I know as well as anyone who grew up in a fundamentalist home the regret that comes with wishing you had come to your senses earlier. The way things are is normal. You don’t know that you have a choice not to participate. But we’re not talking about just any family. This is the “God Hates Fags” family, just a step below the Manson clan in terms of notoriety. So it bothers me that not once in this statement did either Megan or Grace say, “I’m sorry.” The whole thing is essentially a non-apology.

We know that we’ve done and said things that hurt people. Inflicting pain on others wasn’t the goal, but it was one of the outcomes. We wish it weren’t so, and regret that hurt.

“Regret” is a word you use when saying that you wish things had turned out differently: that the other car hadn’t run the stop sign; that you hadn’t sunk all your money into the Ponzi scheme; that you hadn’t wasted a year of your life pining after a guy who would never return your love. However, it’s not a word you use when talking about having intentionally caused pain and misery for so many people. Because if inflicting pain on others wasn’t the goal, I’d sure as hell like to know what was.

It’s as if a rapist-murderer said at the trial: “I know that I’ve done things that hurt people. Inflicting pain on others wasn’t the goal, but it was one of the outcomes. I wish it wasn’t so, and regret that hurt.” We shouldn’t be surprised when the jury comes back with a guilty-on-all-counts verdict.

When it comes down to it, Megan broke pretty much every rule of apology making that psychology has identified as being integral to the healing process. She justifies her actions by laying the blame on her family, and on us by saying they were somehow misunderstood. She glosses over the painful consequences of those actions, and dances around the specifics of what she actually did (e.g., picketing military funerals, thanking God for AIDS, telling everyone God hates them). Then she justifies her actions by having the unbelievable gall to say that she didn’t mean to hurt anyone.

Personally, I’d have been satisfied with something like this:

I’m sincerely sorry for all of the pain and suffering I inflicted on innocent people as a leader of the Westboro Baptist Church. There’s no way that I can ever fully undo the damage I caused or unsay the things that I said, but I promise to spend the rest of my life working to heal the hurt I imposed on gay and lesbian people, on the families of the brave soldiers who gave their lives defending this great country, and on anyone else my family has directed their hatred toward.

That might have convinced some of us of her sincerity—not that we doubt that she’s not a member of the Westboro cult anymore. Rather, that she grasps the gravity of who she was and what she did. At the bare minimum, I expect some real tears here.

Some of the anger I’m feeling comes from the fact that I’ve never been offered an apology by my family, or any of the people who unwittingly taught me how to hate and view myself as a disgusting, perverted, broken faggot. And probably never will. Even after I shared those feelings, no one apologized for the pain I suffocated under all those years, terrified and unable both to articulate that pain or to share its cause. So I’m left to heal all by myself, like the victim of a psychopath with a scalpel, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I’m angry (particularly with the atheist and LGBT communities) with those who seem quick to welcome these women into the fold without so much as an apology that comes close to being adequate or forthright. I don’t expect anyone to crawl over broken glass, but I do expect them to own up to who they were and what they did. They owe us that much.

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4 thoughts on “170. atavistic

  1. That’s really interesting, I think I saw a bit of a documentary about that family. I’m afraid I feel rather sorry for them, it must be long journey out of that kind of brainwashing and, from what you’ve written, they’ve only just left. Maybe the full apology will come a few years down the road.

    • David

      Perhaps. I just don’t think I could ever forgive her for the things she’s done, or enthusiastically welcome her like the rest of the atheist community seems to be doing.

  2. Shut your fucking mouth. No one cares if you find her apology acceptable or not. She doesn’t fucking answer to you. WHo are you anyway? You aren’t entitled to sh it from her. Fuck yourself.

    • David

      And who are you to be defending the Phelps girls so violently? You sound like an incredibly angry person, Ian. Possibly mentally disturbed. Your limited vocabulary also tells me you likely have a limited education, so attempts to reason with you would be moot. I don’t know who you are or what your damage is, but you need help.

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